Patterson Hood may very well have been the busiest man at Bonnaroo, firing off two sets with his new group The Screwtopians and then revving up again for a crackerjack Drive-by Truckers performance joined by the legendary Booker T. His publicist gave me a little briefing when I arrived, noting that Patterson had been pinned down for more than fifteen minutes with a reporter from a college newspaper and he was liable to perhaps be a bit…cranky. This could not have been farther from the truth. We had a great chat about a new band, an old tape and the “goddamn Southern summer sun.”
by Benham Jones for Luxury Wafers
Patterson Hood: Hey there.
BJ: Dude, you look exhausted.
Patterson: For real?
BJ: I mean… you look great. But you SEEM exhausted.
Patterson: Well, I think that sounds about right.
BJ: Three sets in two days? Who does that?
Patterson: Aw, its been a lot of fun, but I’m glad I can just chill out now.
BJ: I promise this won’t take long. Quick and easy like pulling off a band-aid.
Patterson: Whatta you wanna know?
BJ: I guess you’re kind of a Bonnaroo expert at this point. How many years have you been coming here?
Patterson: I think this is my fourth one? I think my first time was in like 2002 with DBTs.
BJ: Has the festival changed a lot do you think?
Patterson: Well, I think its gotten better as far as it seems to run more smoothly now. It’s a pretty well oiled machine and I know our whole crew is pretty happy with everything on the technical end of it. And its always just been, you know, cool… A big beautiful slice of land here. I wish they’d move it to April or something though, sometime when its not so fuccckkking hot out here. Or October. Its like, note to someone important: does it have to be in the goddamn Southern summer sun?
BJ: I think we share a sweatiness. A bear-ness.
Patterson: Is it bad to kind of hate the summer?
BJ: Nah, I’m obsessed with the cold, so I get it, I get you.
Patterson: Yeah, I’m a “cold” guy.
BJ: Musically though, what do you think about Bonnaroo’s growth and change? Because, I guess, DBTs have always been in the Bonnaroo community…
Patterson: Right. Well, its definitely expanded in a lot of different directions, but I would say the changes probably bring it closer to what the Truckers do. In the earlier days, when it was a little more jam band oriented, we were just really lucky that a lot of the folks into that stuff liked our band too. For sure, that’s always great to have that kind of cross over potential and we have a lot of friends in the jam band community too. But that’s never really been quite what we do. DBTs have always been so song oriented.
BJ: You are very much at the cross-section of this festival. Maybe one of the original signals of change here at Bonnaroo.
Patterson: We work well in the “cross-section.” Our sound pulls from so many genres that it would, hopefully, peel backwards too and engage people from different musical backgrounds.
BJ: I like that: “peel backwards”.
Patterson: If you look at any of our record collections, its pretty diverse and eclectic within and between us too. There are certainly a few overriding themes that you can find, as far as our love for soul and punk rock go, but beyond that its pretty much all over the place.
BJ: And you personally, you’ve got a new record coming out in a few weeks? Murdering Oscar (and other love songs)? That’s the title right?
Patterson: Well, its kind of a side project. It started out as a bunch of songs that I wrote before the Truckers, maybe back around 1994 right after I moved to Athens. When I started the Truckers, I started with brand new songs and then the ball just really started rolling and this project kind of fell by the wayside. Years later, I kind of stumbled on a tape of those earliest songs and I was pretty happy with how they held up.
BJ: Were you even looking for the tape?
Patterson: You know, I was just going through some old stuff, hoping to find some songs for a new Truckers record, thinking that some old ideas might be actually worth pursuing. And then I found that particular cassette and all the songs kind of stuck together and stood on their own legs, but it didn’t really sound like where the Truckers were going at the time.
BJ: I really like what I’ve heard.
Patterson: Aw, thanks! Well, then the band was taking a little bit of time off and my daughter was about to be born, so I was in Athens and the studio is just five minutes from my house. I had some friends coming through town that I’d been wanting to play with, so I kind of focused the whole thing together based around that. My dad came in and played on a few songs…
BJ: Oh, I’d heard that. Extremely rad.
Patterson: Yeah, its crazy. We’d never gotten to play together or work on a project, literally, ever. So he stopped by, and then David Barbe showed up…
BJ: David Barbe produced the record?
Patterson: Yeah, produced and played bass on most of it.
BJ: Man, I love Sugar.
Patterson: Oh, I know. We’ve got him out on the road with us right now, and it’s the first time he’s toured since Sugar.
BJ: That was him on bass with the Screwtopians yesterday?
Patterson: Yep, and then we are headed out on a full tour next week and he is gonna be part of that.
BJ: Who’re you guys heading out with?
Patterson: It’s actually really fun. Will Johnson, who’s in the Screwtopians, is gonna be opening the show every night with his own stuff. Which is amazing. And then Scott DanBom and Barbe and Neff and Brad from the Truckers are playing on it. Scott and Will both come from the great Athen’s band Centro-matic
BJ: That’s a tight family affair.
Patterson: Oh, its gonna be fun, gonna be great. I mean, its not soooo different from what [the Truckers] do but some musical emphasis on some different places. A little more power-pop and a lot more harmony work. Will and Scott, the harmonies they have in Centro-matic are very cool…
BJ: The keys too, those really stand out on the tunes I’ve heard.
Patterson: Oh yeah, Scott is just amazing and he plays fiddle too. And then when we get back to Athens, Jay is gonna play too and we’re gonna have all of Centromatic up there.
BJ: Jeez, you’re a busy motherfucker.
Patterson: That would be right.
BJ: Well, you seem exhausted, dude, and I don’t want to keep you for too long. But seriously, thank you so much. You’re like…the nicest.
Patterson: You’re not so bad yourself. Thanks.
Benham Jones currently lives in New York City with his four year old cat Stella.